Graham town hall North Charleston 2 (copy)

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., speaks to constituents after holding a town hall event in North Charleston on Saturday, April 1. Mary Katherine Wildeman/Staff

COLUMBIA — Before the White House accused Russia of trying to cover up the recent chemical attack in Syria, South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham had made up his mind.

"You'll never convince me that the Russians did not know he (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) had chemical weapons," Graham said Tuesday. "I believe they intentionally left chemical weapons in the hands of their puppet, Assad, and I believe they knew about this attack because they are on the same base where the attack came from."  

Graham's comments come less than a week after chemical weapons were dropped on civilians in Syria, killing around 80 people, which then prompted President Donald Trump to order a retaliatory missile strike on an airbase in Homs province. 

The diplomatic situation remains tense as accusations grow from Washington that Russia or President Vladamir Putin knew of the attack beforehand. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is in Moscow to reportedly discuss the country's actions in Syria, which has been a war zone for more than six years. 

"He's going to Russia today," Graham said Tuesday, "and Putin is refusing to meet with him, which means Trump did the right thing." 

Graham's comments came as he was speaking at a National Cyber Security Alliance "Lock Down Your Login" event in Columbia.

United States intelligence services and other sources contend Syria used sarin gas on their own people.

Graham, who previously argued that Trump did not need Senate approval to conduct cruise missile strikes on the Syrian base, was extremely critical of the relationship between Russia and Assad.

"What have we learned, that one war criminal doesn't do a very good job of policing another?" Graham said. 

Once Congress reconvenes following its two-week recess, Graham said he will try to apply additional sanctions against Russia.  

"My number one legislative priority, after we fund the government, is to bring sanctions before the Senate to punish Putin and his inner circle hard for interfering in our election and aiding and abetting a chemical attack in Syria," Graham said. 

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